Rail Industry Focus


Crossrail: Setting the bar high for commuter travel

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 16

During a site visit to Bombardier’s testing facility to see the Crossrail train first-hand, RTM caught up with Mark Wild, London Underground’s managing director, to find out more about the project’s development. Luana Salles reports.

It was a windy Friday morning in Bombardier’s vast Derby facility when transport chiefs and trade journalists alike gathered to see the first Crossrail train run on the company’s test track for the first time in public. We all spread out in front of a gate separating the track from the visitors, anxiously counting down the seconds until the shiny Class 345 materialised in the distance – and then it did. Its front quickly zoomed past us while its emblematic white and purple livery, which most of us had only seen on Elizabeth Line signs, followed behind. And then the purple kept coming. And coming. And coming… 

For those expecting a typical Tube design, the sheer length of the Crossrail train is the first thing you will notice – that is indisputable. The train, which will initially operate in seven-car formations between Liverpool Street and Shenfield, but will later run as a nine-car from May 2018, betrays any mental picture one may have of typical Underground stock. In fact, at 200 metres in length, it’s double its size. 

The same applies to the inside of the vehicle: while this could be partially attributable to the train’s smaller commuter seats, the interior does feel much wider than anything else currently running across the capital’s Underground. 

Seating arrangements 

Although its seats aren’t the softest or most comfortable – but then again, it is a commuter train – the unique mixture of metro-style and classic Tube bay seating offers passengers the widest possible selection to choose from. The longer-back seats do the job for that extra dose of comfort needed if you’re actually travelling all the way from east to west. 

Speaking to RTM, Mark Wild, London Underground’s managing director, said the specific seating mixture was carefully chosen to suit the needs of daily commuters in the capital. Asked if people might feel there is a shortage of seats relative to the large standing space in the wide carriages, he said: “A total of 1,500 people can get in this train and there are 450 seats – that’s pretty typical of high-intensity metro operations around the world. 

“The layout of the seats is different per carriage, so where people will crowd on there’s more space, and at the end of the trains, where people might not be crowding on, there are more seats. A lot of thought has gone into the ergonomics of this train. 

“Generally, the average journey on this train will be 15 minutes. People want it to be safe, comfortable and air-conditioned, but mostly they want to get on – so capacity of people is one of the big drivers. But 450 seats is a really good ratio.” 

IMG 20160729 113530 edit

A sensational layout 

Other headline features of what has been hailed as a “transformational” train include walk-through carriages, air conditioning, CCTV, real-time travel information and an eco-friendly design, given its lightweight materials and ability to regenerate energy back into the power supply when it brakes. A major public concern, however, has been around the lack of toilet facilities, which many argue contradict Transport for London’s (TfL’s) commitment to accessibility. 

But Wild – who was joined at the event by transport commissioner Mike Brown, operations director for the Elizabeth Line Howard Smith, and Bombardier Transportation’s vice-president for Crossrail & London Underground Peter Doolin – was openly proud of how the state-of-the-art Aventra train, of which 66 were ordered for the TfL-run line, had turned out.

“It’s a sensational train,” he argued. “This is world-class train. I’m so pleased to see it – it’s so exciting. This will be on track in 2017, so it won’t be long before it’s actually carrying passengers, and of course it will head into Elizabeth Line in the core section in 2018. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with other train procurements in my career, and this is definitely the best. Obviously [the train] has to be tested thoroughly, but it looks great, and this will be a big success.” 

The first unit in the 66-train fleet is now undergoing a “rigorous testing programme” in both Derby and at the Old Dalby test centre in Leicestershire to ensure it meets all safety, performance and reliability requirements. As well as loading trains with over 100 tonnes of weight to simulate the presence of passengers, carriages will also be taken to a climatic chamber to ensure commuters are kept safe at extreme temperatures. Once trials are finished, testing equipment will be removed from the first trains and the interiors will be completed with seats and moquette seat-covers.

 IMG 20160729 112758 editLessons for Crossrail 2 

The landscape of London is always changing and, with it, transport priorities must adapt to cater to ever-growing demand. 

By the time Crossrail is delivered – which now feels tangibly close, with even its stations and tracks progressing on time and budget – Crossrail 2 will already be desperately needed to mitigate booming volumes of passengers. 

Asked about what lessons learned during the east-west project will be implemented, or at least considered, across Crossrail 2, Wild emphasised the benefits of integration testing away from the railway. 

“That’s a big breakthrough,” he added. “That means we don’t have to disturb our existing railway to test it, which means suspensions and line occupations. Here [in Bombardier’s facility], what’s really impressive is the integration testing is happening in a lab, so when the systems all come together, we’ve really de-risked the testing of this train.

“Other kinds of lessons from it are to really think about the ergonomics of the layout – make it a sensational experience for people. The technical integration is very clever, very smart, and it’ll pay off in certainty, but the train itself is just really sensational for customers. Crossrail 2 is in the early stages of development, but this kind of sets the benchmark; this sets the bar high.” 

This doesn’t mean, of course, that there won’t be lessons to be learned once Crossrail trains begin to operate. In fact, one of the things Wild argued London Underground does well is constantly look at what its passengers think of services. 

“We’re perpetually asking our customers, so there will be learnings when you actually get customers on it. Inevitably, when you get it into service, you’ll get some feedback – and we’re lucky enough to get it into the service in the early to mid part of next year, so we’ll quickly get to learn what customers want,” he said. 

“But at the moment, I’ve never seen a train better prepared and better designed than Crossrail, actually.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com 


Andrew Gwilt   06/09/2016 at 20:05

The Class 345's from the inside look more cleaner and far more different to the other electrostars that Bombardier have built. Thats what the Aventra trains do look like.

Chris M   07/09/2016 at 17:58

Still not convinced these things will have enough seats for the lines to Shenfield and Reading - the 15 minute average journey time may be true because of the huge numbers who will use it in central London as a tube line, but there are many people in the suburbs and outside the M25 who will face a 45 minute journey or longer. More of them will be forced to stand than in the current trains. They should have had about 550-600 seats in my opinion.

Docksider   28/09/2016 at 20:24

So they actually listen to what Customers think then ! This potential customer thinks that at least some Toilets should be available on the Elizabeth Line, if not on the trains at least a couple of stations instead. The average journey times will be much longer than forecast as 15 mins. I predict many "Coded" alerts for station cleaners to attend "spillages" especially on Friday and Saturday nights. This was a major opportunity to get facilities right from the outset, sadly now missed. Many Customers with crossed legs and full bladders me thinks !

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